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The Future of the City

By Yelena Niazyan

Kavitha Rajagopalan: Take Me Down to the Satellite City…

Storm clouds tore open as we shot above ground in the 9 train, the newest branch of the Shanghai metro, bound for the "satellite city" of Songjiang Xicheng. This train line opened in 2007, connecting Shanghai to its new suburbs and exurbs. Both the train line and the satellites reflect dominant urban planning trends in twenty-first-century China: planned urban sprawl to ease overcrowding in the supercities and residential relocation to make room for high-powered development in the city center. The Shanghai municipal government announced in August 2001 that it would begin work on 11 satellite cities and 22 satellite towns, some of which would actually be satellites themselves of the satellite cities. The construction would take place over 20 years. Songjiang Xicheng was the first to be built and was envisioned as a cultural and tourist resort, boasting a foreign-themed district called “ThamesTown” and seven new universities. (Other satellite cities have Scandinavian, Italian, German, or Spanish-themed towns.) The combination of high-tech infrastructure—high-speed metro lines, gated communities, and shopping malls—and foreign architecture was to woo affluent Shanghainese. In addition, I’m told, many middle-class families in substandard housing in the city center received large payments to move to the high-rise apartment complexes in this satellite and others.

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